The Devil’s in the Details Over Different Federal Education Policy Visions

October 19th, 2011

Category: News, Policy and Practice

Today, the Senate HELP Committee debated and marked up Senator Harkin’s bipartisan legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind – signifying a significant opportunity, and risk, as stakeholders come together to redefine the federal government’s role in education. After mark-up, the bill must still garner Senate support and then pass the House before being signed by the President.

The legislation is significantly less aggressive when juxtaposed against the USED’s recently released waiver requirements, which Delaware, along with 40 other states, has committed to pursue this February for the 2012-2013 school year.

Both the waiver and legislation keep increased focus on higher expectations for students and measuring student learning through 21st century assessments – which Delaware is firmly committed.  However, there is significant divergence between the two proposals that could have significant ramifications for education reform in the coming years.

Areas of focus for the legislation/waiver include:

  • Accountability: Harkin’s bill would put strong federal focus on the five percent of lowest-performing schools and the five percent of schools with persistent achievement gaps while the waiver would establish the bottom five percent as “priority” schools and the bottom 10 percent with persistent achievement gaps as “focus” schools (level of intervention discussed below)
  • Student Growth: Harkin’s bill does not establish a yardstick by which schools can measure their continuous improvement and success while the waiver requires districts and schools to establish yearly student learning goals and measure their success against these benchmarks.
  • School Turnaround: Harkin’s bill would allow, but not require, turnaround schools to choose from one of the four current turnaround models in addition to the new “strategic staffing” and “whole school” options while the waiver would require the current four options for “priority” schools and allow the Delaware Department of Education to craft tailored interventions for “focus” schools.
  • Teacher Evaluation: Harkin’s bill would require districts that utilize Teacher Incentive Fund monies to incorporate rigorous teacher and leader evaluation systems while making it optional for all other districts while the waiver would require all educators and leaders be evaluated, based in part, on student learning.

These competing visions for education signify that we’ve reached a critical juncture in determining what our schools will look like for the foreseeable future.  We look forward to working with all interested stakeholders to bring forth critical lessons learned so that Delaware can inform the national discussion around the future of our schools.

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Brett Turner



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